Emergencies Abroad: How To Be Prepared

While thinking about what you would do in an emergency while traveling is not an optimistic topic, it is essential while preparing for and during your trip.

Preparing for an emergency in your home country is stressful enough, but compound that by 100 for emergencies abroad.  Many factors make it different, such as the language barrier, unfamiliarity with laws and regulations, needing to be closer to your home in case you need something, and the uncertainty of your travels.

What you do during or for an emergency abroad depends on what you did ahead of time in to prepare. These tips will make a difference.

Prepare….just in case!

While my sister was getting ready for a trip to Central Europe, I told her I would take a picture of her credit card and passport…just in case.  Ten days later, I got a call that her purse had been stolen and would I cancel her credit cards.  A few minutes later, a miracle happened: someone found her purse with only cash taken, not her passport or credit card.  While she breathed a sigh of relief that the situation could have been a lot worse, it also reinforced the idea that you need a backup in case a situation like this happens.  

Passport and Documents

Only take the necessary documents with you.  But what would you do if that situation were to happen to you?  Since the #1 thing you did when you received your passport was MEMORIZE your passport number (right??), you can call your country’s embassy in the country you are visiting.  Usually, you can have an emergency passport processed in cases like this.  


Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program before you go.  This ensures that any alerts or advisories from your embassy in the country where you are traveling will get to you.  These can include alerts about weather, political instability, crime, etc.  Also, in case anything was to happen, your country’s embassy is always a place to call to see if they can help with your situation.


Credit Cards

If your credit card was to be stolen, do you know who to call to block or cancel it?  Quick reactions can make a difference with later hassles.  Have this information available, and also think that if something happened to your phone, what other resources could you look to?

Arm Yourself with Information

Get acquainted with the local customs and rules.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do; at least know what they do!  If there is an accident on the highway and no one moves until the police come, don’t move your car either.  Adapt to the host country’s ways.

Have a Network.  Don’t be a stranger!  Meet the locals, make friends, and get to know other expats.  An example of this is a tragedy that happened in South Korea a few years ago.  The families of the foreigners affected contacted the Facebook group of Expats, who then helped do what the family needed, as the expats knew the ways in Korea.  Trust people, especially when you need help.

Know some phrases of the language.  Don’t know the right ones?  Then learn how to use Google Translate or any other translating app.  Language barriers can thicken the fog of chaos.  Lean on translation apps to make life easier.

Stash some cash. You could hide some money in a pair of jeans in your suitcase back at your Airbnb.  If you don’t have all of it on you, you will have a little relief if you need money for food or anything that comes up.

Have copies of your passport, visa, and other documents.  You don’t want to be in a situation without any documents, so try to have a copy somewhere.

Stay Connected. Keep your devices charged and have a local SIM card.  Communication is key, especially during emergencies.

What to Do in an Emergency While on Your Journey

Since you have taken some necessary precautions, you can hope you won’t have an issue.  But, if you did, there are a few things for in the moment:

Although it could be a very complicated circumstance, try to be calm.  This is much easier said than done but calmness will help.

What is the emergency number? To call emergency help, is it 911 in the host country, or if not, what is the number for the police, ambulance, or fire department?  Get in touch with local authorities.  Nowadays, you can usually go to the police and report a problem or call, and someone will arrive.  The local authorities are professionals who can direct you on handling the situation.

Your Embassy in the host country is like little island of home in a foreign land.  They can be your lifeline in serious emergencies.  I have learned this and appreciate their support.  For example, when the pandemic started in 2020, and no one knew what was happening and borders and airports shut down, many embassies organized flights for citizens to return to their home country.  This was the only way to fly out of the country for months.  The embassy does have your back, so call them.

Let your family and friends know.   They might not be about to fight the battle to help you in your unfortunate circumstance, but they can provide you with emotional or other support you may need!  So……do you have their phone number memorized in case your phone gets stolen?

Health and Safety Tips

Take a first-aid course! This is necessary for any moment in time, and anywhere you are, including your home. Know what to do in a moment of medical crisis. It can save a life.

Local Medical Aid.  Your safety net  Healthcare systems vary wildly around the globe.  Familiarize yourself with local facilities and services.  

One of the worst things you can do when you are sick while traveling is not to go to the doctor if needed.  Maybe you only like and trust your doctor, which is understandable, but unless your doctor is traveling with you, you must make sure things are okay!  While there can be many reasons:  food, parasites, accidents, etc. if you have the frame of mind that if you ever need to go to the doctor, and you will, that is more than half the battle.  You can also call your doctor at home.

If you get a bout of altitude sickness, usually the locals can help you use what they use.  But again, know ahead of time that you will be in the altitude and travel with some medicine, as there is a really good chance you will be affected if you are not used to the altitude.  

Signing up for medical and/or travel insurance can make you feel some relief that going to the doctor will not break you financially.

Watch what you eat.  Your eyes may be bigger and more curious than your stomach, but take it slow.  Although you will be out of your routine, try to maintain a healthy food intake!  

But in case you do find yourself feeling ill, think about what you ate and what you can do to calm your stomach or intestines.  Not all reactions to different foods are the same.  Learn yours!  Do you need to go to a doctor?  Do you need just to rest?  Be smart about it.

Technological Aids

While we live in the digital age, tech can be your savior.  Use it to your advantage.

Emergency Apps – Use them!

Emergency apps can be vital while traveling abroad. They can provide important information and services to assist you in crises. Here are a few examples:

  1. Red Cross apps: The American Red Cross offers a suite of apps that can help in various emergencies. The “Emergency: Alerts” app provides weather and hazard alerts, while the “First Aid” app offers advice for dealing with common first aid emergencies.
  2. SOS Emergency App: It's a multi-purpose app that sends SOS messages, tracks your location, and provides local emergency service numbers.
  3. TripWhistle Global SOS: This app provides local emergency numbers for every country in the world, and it can also text and email your GPS coordinates to local emergency services.
  4. ICE (In Case of Emergency): This app allows you to store important information, such as your medical conditions, allergies, medication, and emergency contact details, which can be accessed from a locked screen.


Q1: What should be my first step during an emergency abroad?

A1: Stay calm; contact local authorities and your embassy.

Q2: How can I prepare myself for emergencies before traveling?

A2: Familiarize yourself with local customs, emergency numbers, and health facilities. Buy travel insurance and keep copies of important documents.

3Q: How can technology help in a crisis abroad?

A3: Use translation apps to bridge language gaps. Install emergency apps like Red Cross for guidance. Keep your devices charged for communication.

Q4: What precautions should I take with my health while abroad?

A4: Take a first-aid course before traveling. Be careful with unfamiliar food. Know where local medical facilities are located.

Q5: Should I inform my family about the emergency?

A5: Absolutely. They can provide moral support and help contact necessary authorities.

Q6: How can I avoid emergencies while abroad?

A6: Thorough research, travel insurance, and taking precautions with health and safety can help prevent emergencies.

Traveling abroad is an enriching experience, but emergencies can pose challenging situations. With these tips and careful preparation, you can confidently handle any crisis that comes your way. Remember, learning and growth often come through overcoming challenges, even emergencies. So, embrace your travel adventures with readiness and optimism, and happy travels to you!